Orlando City signed defender Thomas Williams to a Homegrown Player contract on June 15, 2021 when he was just 16 years old. The club’s 11th Homegrown signing was seen as an important one and the Lions entered the 2022 season with Williams as the club’s fourth option at center back behind the starting pairing of Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson and backup Rodrigo Schlegel.
This was an area of concern for The Mane Land staff entering the season, because it meant that the Lions entered the campaign just an injury or two away from having to play a 17-year-old in a critical position. Williams did log some minutes with mixed results when injuries and suspensions combined to thin the back line group, but by season’s end the team was utilizing fullback Joao Moutinho rather than Williams in that role.
Let’s look back at his first season with the first team (partially, anyway).
Williams made his MLS debut with Orlando City on April 16, when he played one minute off the bench in the Lions’ 2-0 win at Columbus. He entered during stoppage time and did not even register a touch of the ball. His first start with the senior team came just days later, when the Lions hosted the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Open Cup — a game Orlando won 2-1 on April 20. In all, Williams was on Orlando City’s team sheet for 24 league matches and two USOC games.
During U.S. Open Cup action, Williams played in just the one game vs. Tampa Bay, going 90 minutes; recording no goals, assists, or shots; passing at an 89% success rate; and committing one foul.
In MLS regular-season play, Williams made four appearances (two starts), logging 181 minutes and going a full 90 minutes just once (May 7 at Montreal). He did not score or assist on a goal, nor did he attempt any shots. He passed at an 85.9% rate without recording a key pass. Defensively, he finished with four tackles, four clearances, and an interception. He committed seven fouls without drawing one and received one yellow card.
Williams saw most of his minutes in 2022 with OCB in MLS NEXT Pro. He played in 14 games (all starts) with the Young Lions, logging 1,121 minutes. He did not score or assist on a goal, passing at an 85.8% rate. He put one of his four shot attempts on target with OCB and recorded one key pass. The defender committed 20 fouls and drew seven, and saw four yellow cards on the year in MLS NEXT Pro.
It was a small sample size, but since three of Williams four appearances (all three in which he played more than one minute) resulted in losses, I’m going with his U.S. Open Cup start against Tampa Bay. Williams went the full 90 and his statistical day is described in the section above. Pairing with Schlegel in central defense, Williams played especially strong in the first half when Tampa Bay had more possession than it did after halftime, helping limit the Rowdies to four total shots and only one on target.
However, it wasn’t a perfect outing for Williams. Just after Junior Urso’s goal made it 2-0 and it looked as if the rout might be on, the visitors pulled one back. A ball sent into the box ended up being deflected by Jansson to Lucky Mkosana in front, as the Tampa attacker’s fortune mirrored his first name. Williams had Mkosana pretty well marked but the deflection allowed the Rowdies player to get to it first and knock it past Mason Stajduhar.
After the game, Williams took responsibility for getting beat but it was a solid 90-minute performance overall for the young defender. He helped the Lions limit Tampa to just seven shot attempts (two on target) and 42% possession.
2022 Final Grade
Williams didn’t log enough minutes on the pitch for the senior team to receive a fair grade, so The Mane Land will rate his season performance as an incomplete. The big defender was more a fixture with OCB than with the first team during the season. Both his upside and the fact that he wasn’t quite ready to step in as a regular backup showed in his time on the pitch, but that is not unexpected in a teenage center back.
The Lions signed Williams as a Homegrown Player through the 2024 season with an option year in 2025. The defender will remain in the team’s plans and the staff will continue his development in the coming year. He may or may not log more minutes with the senior team in 2023 than he did in 2022, depending on how that development proceeds and what other roster moves the club makes in the off-season. We expect he’ll still be able to get on the team sheet sometimes next season but if Orlando City still has its three main center backs next year, we don’t expect Williams to play a huge role with the MLS side. That said, he could still see some U.S. Open Cup games and the occasional appearance during heavy fixture congestion.